Consider consequences of UMC breakup

Ted Campbell

By Ted A. Campbell, Special Contributor…

The possibility of dividing the United Methodist Church as a way out of persistent conflicts over homosexuality has been raised enough times in recent years to warrant serious reflection on what it would entail. The fact that Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans have all seen either formal divisions or significant withdrawals of congregations from their denominations over these issues does not bode well for the UMC. 

But as tempting as the idea might be as a way out of our conflicts, we would have to think about realities like the following. 

  • Who would control pension funds, including the question of whether clergy and other church professionals would be excluded from pensions by denominational divisions?
  • Who would control present UMC church properties including local church properties held according to the trust clause? For those of you thinking, “It’s our church property, we can do what we want with it,” think again. Read the trust clause.
  • How would congregations choose (or not) to align with newly defined denominational groups, and how would their decisions relate to issues of properties they hold in trust?
  • How would district and conference and jurisdictional boundaries need to be shifted or realigned? 
  • How would church institutions such as colleges, universities and hospitals be realigned to coincide with new denominational configurations? How would covenants regarding their endowments (for example, specifying denominational participation in governance) need to be amended?
  • How would national and international church agencies be reconfigured? Similarly, how would ecumenical relationships and commitments need to be renegotiated?
  • Would doctrine, liturgy, and issues of personal and social morality be redefined in new denominational structures?
  • Would two new denominations do the trick? Why not three or four? Denominational divisions seldom follow a neat one-two scheme. While we’re dividing, we might as well all find a space where we’re comfortable. Welcome to The Church of Ted.

We really need to be thinking about these issues. As an historian, I’m aware of many points of Methodist divisions in the past, and I’m keenly aware that issues like these inevitably ensue from denominational divisions and are often not considered in the fever of the presenting issues that lead to division.

And before we go too far down that road, let me ask you to consider just hypothetically the status of the United Methodist Church in March 1972. The United Methodist Church had existed for three years and eleven months. Richard Nixon was president of the United States. George McGovern was in the process of winning enough primary elections to secure the Democratic nomination, while George Wallace was also actively campaigning as an independent Democrat. Both democratic Georges were United Methodists. The charismatic movement was a considerable force in the culture of old-line denominations at this point, symbolized by the fact that Oral Roberts had elected to align himself with the Methodist Church in 1968 just prior to the church union of that year that resulted in the formation of the United Methodist Church.

In March 1972 the United Methodist Church did not have any formal statements regarding homosexuality and no formal restrictions on gay or lesbian persons serving as clergy or in other leadership roles. That reflected the situation of both the Methodist Church (1939-1968) and the Evangelical United Brethren Church (1946-1968). Which is to say, for me personally, that the church in which all four of my conservative, southern Methodist grandparents had functioned as laypersons throughout their adult lives did not have any formal statements about homosexuality nor restrictions against gay and lesbian persons serving in the church until April 1972. Or, to put it differently, the church of which George Wallace and George McGovern were members in March 1972, and of which Oral Roberts was a local elder, did not have any formal statements about homosexuality nor restrictions against gay and lesbian persons serving in the church.

What happened beginning in April 1972 was that the denomination began to make declarations at the level of the General Conference about these issues. That means that local congregations, districts, and annual conferences had much less discretion over these issues because the denomination as a whole had adopted statements and later actions that claimed to enunciate a consensus on behalf of the whole denomination.

My colleague the Rev. Rob Renfroe, who serves as president of the Good News movement within the United Methodist Church, points out that conservative leaders in the UMC didn’t raise issues about homosexuality until liberal church leaders raised these issues. He’s literally correct about that. In April 1972 proposed language for the Social Principles statement in the Discipline only included an affirmation of the “sacred worth” of gay and lesbian persons, their need for the ministries of the church, and the need to protect their rights in civil society. That statement, however, provoked a motion from the floor of the General Conference that added the clause, “though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (1972 Discipline, p. 86). That set a trajectory for a 40-year culture battle over this language, including subsequent restrictions on the ordination or appointment of “self-avowed and practicing” homosexual persons.

Just hypothetically, could we return to the church of my grandparents, of George Wallace and George McGovern and Oral Roberts, and erase every single thing in the Discipline on this issue? I know that silence can be cruel. It can also be appropriate when there is no strong consensus as on issues like this. Could we just shut up? For a little while, at least? For the sake of focusing on some other stuff?

Maybe not. Maybe it’s just a fantasy on my part. But if we can’t find any other way out, and sentiment for division prevails, I have two very practical suggestions for delegates to the 2016 General Conference. 1) Find a good calculator app for your smartphones. 2) Consider electing CPAs as delegates. Carving up the pension fund and local church properties is going to be cruel work. Christ, have mercy on us.

Dr. Campbell is an ordained UM elder with a Ph.D. in church history and is a faculty member at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
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18 Comments on "Consider consequences of UMC breakup"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Cathie Soudah
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I think that if homosexual people did not flaunt their “difference” and push the envelope for their rights maybe they would be accepted in our churches as anyone else would be who did not demand special treatment. God created homosexual people just the same as everyone else, therefore they have a right to live how they want to. Over the years, feelings have changed about things in the bible. For instance, slavery was accepted as a part of life as was the abysmal treatment of women. So, why not a change in attitude toward homosexuals and a change in attitude… Read more »
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[…] Moreover, local congregations pay for and maintain church property, in trust, but it is owned by the United Methodist Church. As UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration makes clear, if a church is abandoned or “has to be discontinued because it is ‘broken’ in some way or no longer serving its purpose as a United Methodist church,” the annual conference typically assumes ownership of the property on behalf of the denomination. Schism under uglier terms (see the Presbyterian situation, for example) could mean losing property, carving up pensions. […]

Alan Hitchner
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I think that God favors authenticity, kindness and integrity over shrewdness. This is a much more serious matter than dollars and budgets. Thousands have been fed milk toast pacified with psycho-babel to the point of where this crisis could no longer be avoided. The ordained ministers, the bishops, district offices, the seminaries the church media, the retired and unretired all wear the responsibility for this as does every member of the methodist church that has yielded to being literally shouted down and scorned by the troops of the pro homosexuality movement and of the homosexual marriage and ordination agenda. If… Read more »
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[…] Ted Campbell wrote, schism/splitting will be a cruel, harmful and expensive ordeal.  Here’s a quote from Ted Campbell that helped […]

Mike Childs
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A denomination held together against the will of its churches by a trust clause is not a UNITED Methodist Church. It is an abomination stealing property bought, built, and paid for by local congregations. The purpose of the trust clause is to uphold the traditional orthodox Biblical faith of Methodism. If the denomination denies the Biblical truth that homosexual practice is sin, then according to Dr. Albert Outler, the trust clause supports the local church, not the apostate denomination. Google Albert Outler and the Trust Clause to read his excellent monograph on the subject. Regardless the trust clause cannot force… Read more »
joyce joe
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The splits are sad. Jesus established one church, and now how many divisions are there? And many more to come… The problem is, we are not following God’s laws, which LEAD TO GRACE, but making it up as we go along… THAT is not TRUTH. I am not saying to teach hate or put on trial those that don’t follow God’s laws (for which of us can cast that stone???) but to love them OUT of their sin, as we would want them to love us out of ours. So someone commits adultery, forgive him…someone commits patricide by neglect…forgive him…someone… Read more »
grandmama janet
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I enjoyed Dr. Campbell's article. He sounds just like a parent of a 5 year old boy who decides to run away from hand. The little boy is reminded to pack up his suit case, to be sure and get a job to pay for his food, and to take his rain coat if it rains. As it turned out with most little 5 year old boys as with my little boy, he went outside, went next door to visit a neighbor and drink lemonade and sugar cookies. Later that afternoon, he packed up his suitcase and headed back home.… Read more »
feslop
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Who precisely would walk away? Not the "liberals." As Claremont's professor of evangelism noted, in the midst of an article complaining about the church's stance on sexuality, liberal regions of the denomination are in numerical free fall, unable to think of anything that actually creates new and viable churches (as always, with some exceptions but not enough to be exceptional). With consistently and dramatically diminishing numbers, liberal regions will blink out of existence unless they merge with the even more hurting UCC movement to postpose the inevitable end. Would conservatives walk away? Let's be clear and honest…most 'conservative' UM churches… Read more »
jim
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Breaking up is hard to do–whether it is a junior high romance, a long time courtship, a marriage, or a mainline denomination. There are always residuals that sometimes can be messy. I suppose the main consideration should be how one views the Great Commission–go out and share the Good News, baptize new believers, make disciples in all parts of the world. It is difficult for conservatives, fence setters, liberals to come together in any forum–especially in a Christian/Church setting. Each of the 3 tries to out-shout the other 2 and the Good News gets lost. Splitting, though, is the only… Read more »
grandmama janet
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At 72 years of age, my faith is stronger than ever as a long time member of a United Methodist Church. I had a brother who died of Aids. I had no idea about his orientation and after he got his Masters in business along with his CPA, made the decision to move to California. Never once did I ever shy away from loving him with all of my heart. My Christian faith has always taught me to love one another. Jesus reached out to all of the disenfranchised to touch them with God's love and to free them from… Read more »
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